Never hit a man with your fist if someone else will hit him with his car.

When Altar Boys Get Bored–The TRW National Security Disaster

By Jay Holmes

In Santa Monica, California, in 1953, a recently “ex” FBI agent named Charles Boyce and his wife Noreen were blessed with the birth of their first child. They named their future altar boy Christopher. Noreen Boyce was a strict Catholic who avoided birth control, and eventually gave Christopher eight younger siblings. Charles Boyce had a successful career as a security expert in the aerospace industry, and even with nine children, the family enjoyed a life of affluence with a home in the fashionable Palo Verde community. Charles and Noreen Boyce were politically conservative and outspokenly patriotic. FBI agents and other law enforcement friends frequently visited their home. The successful parents doubtless had no idea that their oldest would one day betray their country.

Christopher Boyce mugshot from US Marshals Service

Christopher Boyce
mug shot from US Marshals Service

Christopher Boyce attended a Catholic elementary school, where he flourished both academically and socially. He embraced Catholicism and was an enthusiastic altar boy at the local church. He made friends easily, and his best friend was a fellow altar boy by the name of Andrew Daulton Lee. Unlike the popular “A” student Boyce, Lee struggled to maintain a “C” average and was socially awkward, but they shared something important. Chris Boyce was known to be a daredevil, even in his elementary school days, and so was Andrew Dalton Lee.

On one occasion, Boyce’s love of risk-taking led to a fall from a forty-foot tree. Unfortunately, he landed in a pile of leaves on a muddy river bed and survived. He suffered two compressed disks in his back, but the injury did not dampen his love of thrill seeking.

As teenagers, Boyce and Lee took up the hobby of falconry. Boyce became fairly expert at it, hence his eventual name, “the Falcon.”

During high school, the two lost their enthusiasm for the Catholic Church and decided that they were no longer Christian. Boyce’s grades slipped, but he remained popular with his fellow students. Lee’s grades remained poor, and he replaced his love of church with a love of cocaine. Though he’d previous had trouble attracting female companionship, he was able to use marijuana and cocaine to obtain sex with cooperative girls. He thus obtained the nickname, “the Snowman.”

If we are to understand the eventual criminal misadventures of Boyce and Lee, a.k.a. the Falcon and the Snowman, we should consider the time in which they were raised. By the late 60s, the Viet Nam war was on the news every night, and in general, the major media networks took a dim view of the federal government’s atrocious mismanagement of that conflict. The great American Optimism of the 40s and 50s had been replaced with cynicism and a healthy mistrust of authority.

After Boyce and Lee graduated high school, Boyce started college, and Lee expanded his drug business. Lee did hold legitimate jobs on occasion, but the low wages and long hours held no appeal when the easy money of drug dealing was available. Besides, as the Snowman—a successful cocaine dealer—he held a certain place of importance in the same social circles of affluent youths who had never accepted him prior to his drug dealing career.

Chris Boyce floundered in college and dropped out. At his parents’ urging and support, he started college again and dropped out again, and again. Boyce was certainly smart enough for school, but he had no interest.

Boyce’s parents were worried about their bright son’s seemingly dull future. His father had a close friend who was the security director at TRW Corporation, so he asked that friend if he could help find a job for Chris. TRW hired Chris Boyce as a clerk in 1974.

TRW manufactured components for highly advanced Top Secret communications and reconnaissance satellites for the CIA and other federal agencies. Chris Boyce worked at a TRW facility that was equipped to receive and decode information from US satellites. Thanks to his dad’s influence, Boyce, with no post high school education, no legitimate experience, and no security screening, was given a security badge and access to classified documents at TRW.

To the average reader, this might seem outrageously careless of TRW. It was. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Boyce was soon given Top Secret clearances by the CIA and the NSA.

If a proper investigation had been done, and if anyone had bothered to analyze the results, Boyce’s lack of any track record and three successive drop outs from three different colleges would have indicated a glaring lack of maturity and reliability. However, Boyce did not even receive a lie-detector test, which, while not full proof, would likely have uncovered his drug history and the fact that his best friend was the local “Snowman.” Apparently, the simple lack of an arrest record and his father’s reputation were enough to propel Chris Boyce from an entry-level status to Top Secret access within a few months of his joining TRW.

Boyce was transferred to an even higher position in the “Black Vault” at TRW. This is where the company stored Top Secret Codes, and where incoming data from satellites were decoded. We now know that Boyce discovered a “party atmosphere” within the Black Vault team. Safe in the knowledge that visitors were not allowed in the vault, the Black Vault team was using a CIA shredding machine as a daiquiri mixer. It literally was a party.

After being promoted to the Black Vault team, Boyce began reading decoded messages that were supposedly being misrouted to TRW. These included diplomatic messages. Boyce claims that, in combination with his anger at the Viet Nam War, the content of some of the messages caused him to decide to turn against the US.

One series of messages that Boyce pointed to was supposed diplomatic traffic indicating that the US was plotting the downfall of the Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. According to Boyce, the US government was angry at Australia because they were “threatening to pull out of Viet Nam.” The US was, indeed, unhappy with Gough and his anti-American views, but Boyce’s story sounds like something that was fed to him in contingency planning by a Soviet KGB handler. Australia pulled its last combat forces out of Viet Nam in 1972, two years prior to Boyce’s joining TRW and beginning his career as a spy for the USSR. The US pulled out its last combat troops in Viet Nam in 1973. The “Australia” line in Boyce’s justifications of his betrayal makes no sense.

Chris Boyce’s motivations for betraying the US were likely far less noble than he claims. He copied and stole documents and codes from the Black Vault to sell them to the USSR. In a lapse of judgment, he decided to use his close friend Dalton Lee, “the Snowman,” as his go-between to communicate with the Soviets.

While drug dealers and all variety of criminals are often used in intelligence operations, they are not usually trusted with more than the minimal information they need for a particular task. They are never trusted to act as couriers. Boyce had read a couple of spy novels, but apparently not the right ones. Given Lee’s basic emotional insecurity and his drug use, he was a bad choice, but Lee was the one person who Boyce could trust in terms of personal loyalty.

The Snowman was thrilled with Boyce’s suggestion that they spy for the USSR, and he quickly agreed. Lee purchased spy novels for his training regimen and travelled to Mexico City to contact the Soviet Embassy. Thus began the espionage careers of the Falcon and the Snowman. Next Wednesday, we will consider how and what the Falcon and the Snowman delivered to the USSR, and what damage they did to America.


14 thoughts on “ When Altar Boys Get Bored–The TRW National Security Disaster

    • on ,
      Jay Holmes said:


      Hi Philosopher. I get the impression that they were both spoiled. They remind me a bit of the Trinity gang. They seem to have had a sense of entitlement and no responsibilities when growing up. It’s hard to say for sure. One never knows the full story about other people’s family life.

  1. Sou nds familiar. Low level clerk with access to classified intel. History repeats itself..

  2. That’s a seriously sad inditement of the government/industry security screening program. People using the own trusted status to boost the status of other individuals ought to always be a red flag. Looking forward to part 2.

    Cheers!

  3. Training by reading spy novels… cool. Though I guess he’d have to be careful which ones he picked. Ian Fleming’s might not be a great choice unless he was going to Monaco…:-)

    Curious epithet, slightly off-topic. I didn’t know about the spy – but there was a Chris Boyce who wrote SF novels – a Scot, passed away in 1999. I still have his ‘Catchworld’, a disturbingly weird tale about a totalitarian Earth government, interstellar war, a psychotic scientist and his dysfunctional crew of sociopaths. A nightmare scenario at every turn, and the whole story had a dada-like quality that made it absolutely fantastic as a reading experience – which I seriously doubt would be publishable in today’s market. But ain’t that always the way.

  4. on ,
    Jay Holmes said:


    Hi Matthew. Was that a novel or a Pentagon defense budget meeting?

  5. Pingback: Why You Don’t Want Chemically-Enhanced Partners In Treason — Andrew Daulton Lee « Bayard & Holmes

  6. Pingback: The Fall of the Falcon and How Top Security Access Changed — Or Didn’t « Bayard & Holmes

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